Peter Robinson is a master storyteller. While there is a sequence to his Alan Banks series, it is a friendly, comfortable and forgiving one. Banks is a British police inspector possessed of a keen intellect, a droll sense of humor, and an extremely eclectic interest in popular music. The stories are driven in equal parts by plot and character. New readers are brought up to snuff on the backstory they need; longtime and loyal fans can pick up the threads left dangling from the previous volume almost immediately. There are elements of comfortable familiarity, yet things change from book to book. Picking up a new Banks story is like visiting with an old and familiar friend who always has something new and just a little bit different to show you, so that you are always overjoyed to see him; after leaving, you anticipate the next visit.
At the start of BAD BOY, we find Banks on vacation in the American West, far outside of his usual comfort zone, where he has a catharsis in the desert and something good happens to him in San Francisco. Back home, though, things aren’t wonderful. Tracy, Banks’s adult daughter, is in a situation that is spiraling out of control. She shares an apartment with two other young women and has been friends with one of them, Erin Doyle, since childhood. Erin is involved with a somewhat shadowy character named Jaff McCready, who has the whole bad boy thing going on. Tracy is herself a bit of a twit who takes a few too many judgment-clouding drugs with predictable results. Yet her attraction to Jaff is understandable, even to the male readers.
But when Tracy and Erin have a major blowup over Jaff, Erin decides to take a break and return to her parents’ apartment for a few days. While packing, she includes in her overnight bag a gun that she had previously taken from Jaff. A few nights later, while Erin’s mother Juliet is straightening Erin’s room, she finds the weapon.
Now, all of this is happening in England, whose strict firearm laws would never pass muster in the United States. Juliet is terrified of the consequences of simple possession of a firearm --- the penalty for which would include a mandatory prison term --- for her daughter. Knowing Banks as the result of the long-time friendship between Erin and Tracy, Juliet goes to the Eastvale Police Station to seek his advice. Banks is in San Francisco, of course, so Juliet winds up speaking to Annie Cabbot, who properly, if not wisely, follows procedure. Predictably, disaster strikes. When Tracy hears about the trouble, she attempts to warn Jaff. No good deed in BAD BOY goes unpunished (other than one that takes place in San Francisco), and as a result, Tracy’s situation, not wonderful to begin with, goes from bad to worse to devastating as the unthinkable happens.
In the meantime, Banks returns to London to utter chaos. A manhunt is on for his missing daughter, and Banks has no idea of the extent or degree of her involvement in what has occurred. As both longtime and casual readers of the series know, Banks is fully capable of being the law enforcement equivalent of a bad boy himself, and efforts, both officially and unofficially, to rein him in with respect to the investigation go predictably --- and unpredictably --- awry. Tracy has no idea what she has gotten herself into, and as that situation is slowly revealed to her and to the reader, it seems as if there is no way that the novel can end other than badly for all involved.
There really isn’t a mystery in BAD BOY, as readers are advised of what is occurring a step or three ahead of the police --- except, of course in a critical spot or two. More accurately, it’s a police procedural, with Banks and company knocking over, and occasionally tripping over, rocks in an effort to acquire critical information. And, as is Robinson’s wont, there is an unresolved thread or two at the end that will leave readers, including this one, in anticipation of the next installment.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010